For Sergeant Thomas Simmons, getting injured in Iraq was just the start of an adventure that would throw him down the rabbit hole into a world where nothing made sense anymore. Having to restart his life, this soldier has to take his battlefield courage and turn it to a different arena in order to face this newest set of challenges. He just wonders if he is strong enough to handle this newest change in his life.
“Yes, Mom, I am planning on staying here in Tennessee and working on my degree. I’m planning to start classes and actually get my Bachelors.”
“Well then, why did you drop out of Community College? If you wanted to go to school you shouldn’t have dropped out.”
“Yes, I probably shouldn’t have dropped out then, but I did what I felt I had to do.”
“Tom, come back home, there are plenty of good schools here that you can go to.” pleaded his mother.
“I know there are plenty of good schools back home Mom, but I want to go to school here so I can see my friends when they finally make it out of Iraq.” He was growing angry with her. Why wasn’t she listening to him?
“Tom, you are leaving the Army. It’s not like you are going to be dealing with those people. Don’t worry about them as they have their own lives to worry about and they won’t have time for you.”
“Look Mom, just because I’m leaving the service doesn’t mean that my friends will no longer talk to me. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“But you won’t have a job in common with them, so what will you talk about?” She was trying to make sense, to be pragmatic but all it did was make Thomas want to scream at her.
“I’ve known these guys for several years mom, I care about them. We have been through a great deal together and I am not abandoning them.” He said hotly.
“Thomas, you need to leave there and move on with your life. Hanging around there won’t be good for you. Just come on home.”
“Fine, whatever. Look, I gotta go.” Thomas hung up the phone and sighed heavily, leaning backwards in his desk chair. Talking to his mother these days was like some sort of endurance test. She spoke over him and pushed her ideas about everything so hard that it was exhausting to have to put up with that. Being able to get out a full sentence with her often made him feel like he had made some sort of accomplishment. He was glad that they only spoke every couple of weeks - any more often and he would feel like strangling her. That alone was reason enough to head back to them. At this point he could not live with her anymore.
Thomas ran a hand over his freshly cut hair. The high and tight looked really good and the razor cutting on the back and sides really looked pretty sharp. He was definitely ready to get back to the tedium of garrison life. He was going to be able to sit around the barracks, do paperwork, and not have to worry about any training for a while, which did have some appeal. Thankfully, he was allowed to stay in his desert fatigues and thus wouldn’t have to iron his uniform or polish his boots. That made him very happy indeed. Well at least somewhat happy all thing considered.
Thomas stretched a little, trying to work some of the soreness out of his muscles and sat down in front of his computer. He logged on to the net and went to Google after breezing through his homepage. He sat there looking at the prompt bar trying to decide what to type in. How the hell would you start a search like this? It was embarrassing even thinking about this. He made a guess and typed something in.
“Jealous of Girls” yielded no workable results. “Wanting to be a girl” wasn’t much better, with many results that had nothing to do with what he was looking for. However, one of the links on the pages led him to something called Gender Identity Disorder which sounded ominous. Using that term as a search parameter led him to pages and pages of information. He read from many sites and got all sorts of information on Gender Dysphoria, Transsexualism, Transvestism, and a number of other things that made his head swim and only added to his nervousness. Some of it seemed to fit and other parts of it didn’t seem close at all. He used the new terms to expand his search and found quite a large array of personal stories of people dealing with this… this… whatever it was.
The people’s stories seemed to make some sense to Thomas, much more so than the other sites. The information was dizzying. A few times it was like he was reading his own thoughts and feelings on the matter. Was this what he was dealing with? Maybe he did need to see a shrink after all. This was not really a pleasant thought and the idea of being a freak made him a bit twitchy.
When he checked on Gender Therapists, Thomas managed to find a list of therapists across the United States who specialized in this area. After finding Tennessee, he looked through to see if he could find someone who he could talk to. There happened to be two in the area and one worked with Vets. This surprised Thomas a lot; where there really that many veterans dealing with this? He was not the only one? That thought alone made him feel a bit less awkward over the issue.
He shook his head. Now that he had the beginnings of a plan to find out about this whole thing that was haunting him, he would just let it drop for right now. He copied the doctor’s number down and decided to call him tomorrow and see about trying to get an appointment with him as soon as he could, to get rid of this damn problem. He really didn’t want to feel this way. After saving a few sites, Thomas shut down his computer and got ready for bed. Hopefully this would be simply some sort of odd moment of insanity and he could get on with his life and not have to worry about any of this gender crap. It didn’t look fun and seemed to be a tremendous hassle to anyone dealing with it. There was even information about people who had died because of all of this gender crap, either killed by idiots or suicide. That was definitely not something that endeared the whole concept to Thomas. The fact that people got so freaked out over their genitals that they would kill themselves was not a comforting thought. It disturbed him to think that he might be one of them.
It took a good while to get to sleep because his mind was churning over everything he had found out. Finally, the meds kicked in and he drifted to sleep.
* * * * * *
The temporary CO of the unit gave Thomas leave to begin the whole outprocessing deal so that he could attend some of the informative classes. To get out of the Army required him to jump through several weeks worth of hoops, get signatures from the strangest places and turn in his gear. He had to drive all over base to make this happen. That did get him into a Veterans Administration counselor though, to talk about his disability and some of the options it would give him in terms of training and money.
“I’m saying that it is possible for you to go to school on the VA’s tab, son. Vocational Rehabilitation can easily pay for you to go to any accredited school in the United States and study anything you want. Hell, last year I put through the paperwork for a guy to go to a Blacksmiths School out in Arizona. We bought his tools and an anvil for him. If they’ll pay for that, then you should be easily covered for going to college.”
Thomas nodded and jotted down a few notes. This had proven to be interesting and helpful. Maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about money while he went to school. That would be something truly lovely as he wanted to get a college degree, as he would be one of the few in his family to have gotten one.
“You mentioned something about being medically retired?” asked the counselor, an overweight gentleman with a semi-scruffy beard.
“Yeah. I’m going to be getting something like 30 to 40% disability rating by the medical board.” mentioned Thomas, wondering where this was going to go. What did his rating have to do with anything?
“Good. You would qualify for the Voc Rehab program with only a 20% rating from the VA, so you are in there easily if the med board says it is between 30 and 40 percent. When your medical records are evaluated you might even be able to go higher. If you make it over 50% then the VA pays for all of your medical expenses. So make sure that you do that. Tell them everything, and I do mean everything as you never know what they will approve.”
“Really?” This surprised Thomas. “I thought they would only cover things that happened to me in the service?”
The man nodded. “True enough, but at 50% you get covered for everything. They take care of any and all medical issues for you then. It’s a good deal. Just make sure when you get your medical records that a copy of them goes to the VA. You can even drop it off here at our office to speed up the process. We’ll take care of the rest.”
Thomas stood up and shook the man’s hand. “Thank you for that, sir. I’ll get back in touch later.”
Thomas hobbled out of the building, leaning heavily on his cane. He was doing a bit more walking than he was used to and he could tell by the growing pain in his leg that he needed to find something else to do so he could rest his aching everywhere. But he still had to walk back to the barracks from the parking lot. He got out of the car, looked over towards the building, sighed and lowered his head, walking slowly and purposefully in the direction of his room. It was only about a quarter of a mile away, but he was really not looking forward to the whole thing. He kept muttering to himself with each step he took, “I can do this.”
Before long sweat was trickling down his forehead and he just wanted to fall over and lie there. The whole thing had been grueling and he was determined to make it to the building, pain be damned. He was only two hundred more yards away. Surely he could do two hundred yards?
Thomas collapsed on the steps to the building, unable to really go any farther, panting from both the exertion and the pain. One of the several Privates attached to the Rear Detachment walked out of the building a few minutes later and froze in his tracks. The man looked down at Thomas worriedly and asked, “Uhm… you alright Sergeant?”
Thomas chuckled bitterly, glaring at the soldier. “Do I look alright Private?”
“No, Sergeant.” the Private really looked at a loss for what to do. This sort of situation had never been covered in any of his training. “Did you need some help?”
Thomas looked up at the Private somewhat exasperated. He thought about it and he knew he wouldn’t be able to make it up there to his room on his own, certainly not anytime soon. He swallowed his pride and said, “I need help to get to the second floor.”
The Private nodded and helped Thomas to his feet, hefting him up from the floor with some effort. It took a while but together they managed to get Thomas to his room and helped him to collapse on the bed. The Private even helped him grab a soda and his drugs. Thomas drank them down quickly and was looking forward to them kicking in. The Private waited there, fidgeting nervously. “Is there anything else you need Sergeant?”
Thomas sighed. He hated things like this, this feeling of helplessness. It made him feel like a cripple. “Not really. Thank you for all of your help. I’m not sure if I would have made it up here on my own.”
The Private smiled. “No problem Sarge. Is it true that you got a Bronze Star for action in Iraq?”
This amused Thomas. There seemed to be some hero worship going on here as well as eager Private. It did make him feel a little better. “Yeah. For actions above and beyond the call of duty or something like that. Basically it did something crazy and it worked out for me and my platoon, but I did get injured for my trouble.”
“Well, what happened?” The Private was almost bouncing eagerly to hear Thomas’ story. He took a seat and waited.
Thomas humored the kid and the told him about what it was like over in Iraq and all the good and bad parts of the whole situation. It was kind of nice to have someone to talk to about what it had been like. All of his friends were still over in Iraq for another three and a half months and he had been getting lonely. After he was done, the Private had to take off to run some errands for the First Sergeant and Thomas was kind of glad, as this would allow him to make his phone call without anyone listening in.
“Hello, Dr. Richards speaking.” Thomas was a little surprised that the number seemed to be the direct line. He had completely expected to have to deal with a secretary of some sort.
“Yes, hello sir. My name is Thomas Simmons and I am being discharged from the service. I am calling because I have been having some odd feelings and need some help to get over them. I heard that you were a good person to see about this.” This should be a nice easy introduction to the subject and appropriately cryptic.
There was a slight pause on the other end of the line as if the Doctor was trying to work out just what Thomas had said. “I see. What kind of feelings?”
Thomas took a deep breath. This was it. The moment of truth. He could do this. If he was ever going to get past this whole jealous over women thing and back to his normal life he would have to take a chance and tell the man. “Of being jealous of girls, because of how they look.”
Again there was a pause, which only served to make Thomas more nervous rather than less. “Alright. Anything else you have noted?”
Again he might need to take the risk and go for broke. “Uhm…I also think I may have been taking stupid actions in an attempt to die. At least that is the best I can figure out, though it was my Sergeant that pointed this out to me after I got severely injured in Iraq. I think it could be due to feeling that I have no real reason to live.”
“Alright. Do you feel that you are likely to take any action to harm yourself or others in the near future?” The voice was overly calm and cautious. Thomas could understand why that was. After all, he could be a nutcase.
“No sir. It’s just that when I was in Iraq I often took serious and stupid risks for no really good reason. I justified them to myself at the time as looking out for my teammates, but I’m not to sure they really can be justified. When I was recovering from injuries sustained after one of these actions I started thinking about all of this. That was when I really noted the jealously thing. I mean, I have kind of felt it off and on for years, but never really gave it much thought. Being in the hospital gave me time to think things over and I’m not sure that was a good thing.” Thomas wasn’t really proud of admitting any of this, but if he was to get over this he needed to be able to talk about these things.
“And you wanted an appointment to see me?” asked Dr. Richards.
“Yes sir. I would really like that.” Thomas sighed in relief. That was one less worry in this whole thing. If he could see someone who specialized in this sort of thing he might be able to get better faster.
“I take it you are still active duty?”
“Yes sir, though I’m in the process of being medically retired due to my injuries. Is that going to be a problem?” He really didn’t want to have to wait to take care of this until he was out of the Army. He really wanted to get to work on things now, waiting several weeks seemed like an a bad idea.
“No problem. I have an opening next week, Tuesday, at five o’clock. Will that work for you?” The voice was friendly and Thomas figured he would actually like this guy.
“That would be fine sir. I will see you then. Good bye.” He hung up the phone and lay back on his bunk sighing in relief that the call was over. Going to see a shrink would be different, and a little unnerving, but he would be able to handle it. Then after a while this whole problem would be a bad memory and one that he would happily forget. He could go to classes, maybe even join a fraternity and live the life of a big man on campus. That would be nice. Of course the possibility of getting a girlfriend was a nice thought as well. After all, he was a certified hero, with a medal and everything. Girls really got off on that sort of thing.
Thomas daydreamed about college until it was time for chow, playing out all sorts of dreams about being the big man on campus. He even managed to make himself walk with out a limp which he knew to be an impossibility. It made him happy. His girl was shorter than him, which was quite a feat given his five foot five height. It was a good dream and made him happy. When he opened his eyes to head off to chow it was with some regret.
He was trying to avoid spending all of his time hiding in his head, but what else could he do? Right now, he was simply counting time until he would be discharged from the only job he ever felt he was good for. Under no circumstances did Thomas want this to happen, but he had never seen an infantryman with a limp before. And it was going to be way too hard to hump your ruck when you needed to worry about a cane or that you moved at a crawl compared to your buddies. All he wanted was for everything to be better, so that he could keep on being the soldier he felt he was. He wanted to head back to Iraq, to get back to his unit and shoot the shit with his friends. He certainly didn’t want to be wasting his time filling out forms and being told about the wonderful opportunities he would have back in the civilian world. The civilian world could go fuck itself.
Thomas was still a bit groggy from the pain meds and he really would have preferred to keep daydreaming or at least to get some shut eye but his stomach demanded action. He pulled on his top over his regulation issue brown t-shirt and limped out, clutching his cane. After struggling down the stairs using both cane and railing, he made it across the street and down to the chow hall.
In a way, he was really glad that none of his friends were here to see him like this. They would all feel sorry for him and he didn’t know if he could have endured the looks of pity or handled knowing that they were thinking that he was totally useless now. Maybe getting out would be the merciful thing after all. He had seen other people get injured and he knew that there was always a feeling that the other person was faking things somehow, that if they simply tried that they could do everything asked of them if they weren’t simply lazy. He had done it to others and now, thankfully, he was being spared those looks and those words. Thomas knew he was trying to still be a good soldier, but he also knew that he could never have really convinced anyone of that.
He limped over to the chow hall and ate, kind of out of it and lost to his thoughts, sitting alone at a table. He needed to get off base and do something, anything at this point would be better than sitting around feeling like crap. He didn’t even taste his food, something he was actually thankful for as the DFAC food was usually terrible. He had to leave before he went off on anyone. He hustled upstairs to change and took off to his car.
His car had been taken out of the lock up and was now in the parking lot, one of the few cars there right now, with the Battalion over in Iraq. He liked his Mustang; it was a classic, not a Fast Back or one of the more recent versions, but an old ragtop. He struggled just a bit to get comfortable in the seat and started his car up. The loud thrum of the engine made him smile. This was what a car needed to sound like.
He cranked up his music and just started driving. His thoughts drifted as he let the miles soothe him as he drove north to Hoptown. Hopkinsville Kentucky was not very far, but going there and back again was soothing. He turned onto I-24 on the way back and headed down to the rest of Clarksville. After a fairly short while he found himself back in town and at the Mall. He shrugged and pulled into a handicapped spot, his temporary tag hanging in the window. Maybe he could find some new video games to keep him busy. After all he couldn’t do too much these days and his wrist had healed enough to endure a game.
He hobbled through the Mall, stopping in the game stores looking at what was available. There wasn’t much that he hadn’t already played, thanks to the generous donations of games to his unit when he was in Iraq. He did miss relaxing by killing virtual baddies with teammates. It was soothing and certainly a lot less dangerous than walking the streets of any Iraqi town. After a while, as his leg began to ache, he sat down on a bench in front of one of the stores.
He watched people go back and forth in front of him, noting what he was feeling as he looked at them. There were a lot of girls out and he watched them, an ache inside growing as he watched. This confusion was pissing him off. He didn’t understand this particular… what ever it was that he was going through and he just needed to get cured. He knew what he had read, but how could that really apply to him? He had never crossdressed or anything in his entire life. He shook his head to try and clear his thoughts, doing what he could to get his mind off of it. He had an appointment next week with the Doc. That should be good enough. Dwelling on it only made the feelings worse.
He got up and limped over to the movie theatre. He was going to watch something and just not think. Some sort of action film would be best, that should really do a good job of distracting him from the rest of this crap. He got his ticket and got to his seat, lowering himself into the chair carefully. He lost himself in the film and was glad for it.
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